Battle Luna – Snippet 12
“What?” Pappy asked, frowning. KC’s breathing changed subtly, indicating some activity. But Pappy didn’t dare turn around to see what he was doing. “KC?”
“Okay,” KC said. “Get ready to blind the Ueys — you’ll know when.”
The last word was cut off as KC unplugged his cable. Pappy swore under his breath, his eyes flicking between the spotters and the rest of the ridge, berating himself for not seeing it sooner.
A second later he jerked in surprise as KC bounced past him into view, bounding toward the ridge with a big wrench in one hand and the knife from his tool kit in the other. Raising the knife high, he charged toward the ridge.
Grinning tightly with sudden understanding, Pappy sent a blinding barrage of paintballs into each of the trapped Uey soldiers’ faceplates.
“Pappy?” Morgan gasped as KC bounded past her.
“Keep watching,” Pappy said, keying his transmitter again. “Chakarvarti — for the love of God — get your men back!” he barked. “Get them back now! He’s gone off the rails.”
“What are you talking about?” Chakarvarti demanded. But Pappy could hear the sudden wary confusion in his voice.
“The pain meds,” Pappy said tightly. “They have side effects in an oxy-rich atmosphere.”
“Is that a knife?”
“You want this war to start with United Earth gunning down a wounded, half-insane man?” Pappy snarled. “With you gunning down a wounded, half-insane man? Pull them back, damn it.”
KC reached the ridge and started bounding his way up. Pappy held his breath, his own less than stellar attempt to climb the crumbling rock flashing to mind.
But KC was a miner, and had had far more experience with this kind of thing. He hit the first set of footholds like a gymnast sticking a landing, and even as one of them began to crumble he was on his way up to the second. He passed the two blinded Ueys, reached the top and balanced there for a second…
And then, dropped his arms suddenly to his sides and started sliding back down the slope.
Morgan gasped. “Pappy –?”
Pappy keyed off his transmitter. “Hold on,” he cautioned. KC looked like he was simply falling, but Pappy could see the subtle but deliberate shifting of hands and feet to slow his descent. He reached the ground and collapsed onto his back, his knife and wrench bouncing a couple of times off the rock before they came to a halt.
At his side, invisible from the Ueys’ position, his fingers curled toward his palm and his thumb stuck briefly up.
Pappy puffed out a brief sigh of relief. Talking, and Psy Ops. He once again keyed his transmitter. “Chakarvarti? You there?”
“I’m here,” the colonel said. “I’ve pulled back my troops. Is he all right?”
“I don’t know,” Pappy said. “You going to let me go get him and bring him back to my foxhole?”
There was a brief hesitation as Chakarvarti probably ran United Earth’s orders through his mind. But apparently the thought of his name plastered unflatteringly across the next century’s worth of history texts tipped the balance. “Go,” he said. “But if you try to escape or attack, we will shoot you down.”
“Thanks.” Unplugging his cable, Pappy heaved himself cautiously over the lip of his foxhole. If Chakarvarti was going to be an unprincipled bastard, this was his chance.
But the Ueys held their fire as he hopped over to KC. Leaving the wrench and knife where they were, he got the man up into his arms. “Though history might well say that your bombs were the true start of this war,” Chakarvarti continued as Pappy made his way back to his foxhole.
“You mean the cement bombs?” Pappy asked. “Hardly a lethal weapon.”
“I mean the bomb you used to bring down the top of the ridge.”
“That wasn’t a bomb,” Pappy said. “Just an oxygen tank with a torch wedged under it to heat it past the pressure-stress margin. And you already said no one was hurt, right?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
Another pause. “Not directly,” Chakarvarti said, a little grudgingly. “But that cement could be a problem. It’s already torn at least one man’s outer suit layer.”
“You were probably trying to brute-force it off him,” Pappy said, easing KC into the foxhole and climbing in after him. “Hang on a second — I need to check his med display.”
He cut his transmitter and plugged in KC’s cable. “Nice job, KC,” he said. “How are you doing?”
“You tell me,” KC said, his voice distant. “You’re the one looking at the display.”
“Yes — silly of me,” Pappy said, feeling his eyes narrow. KC’s vitals were okay, but as Pappy had feared the suit wasn’t doing a very good job of stopping the bleeding. It was slow, but not showing any signs of stopping. He had to get that MASH truck here, and fast.
Pappy switched on again. “He’s stable,” he told Chakarvarti. “Still bleeding, though.”
“I’ve offered our assistance,” the colonel reminded him. “That offer still stands.”
“Yeah, I’ll take it under advisement,” Pappy said. “As to your own little problem, as I was saying, you can’t just force the cement. You have to be a bit more inventive.”
“I have no idea what you’ve got in there,” Pappy pointed out. “Even if I did, I’m hardly a materials expert.”
“Could you at least offer some suggestions?”
“Sure,” Pappy said. “First suggestion: pack up and get back to the Tranquility Transfer Station. Second suggestion: get in your ship, head back to Earth, and don’t come back.”
Chakarvarti chuckled. “That’s three suggestions, actually. Five, counting your two first. Come now, Sergeant, let’s be reasonable. We’re just the pawns in a much bigger game, you and I. There’s really no need for us to be at each other’s throats. On the contrary, this is the perfect opportunity for us to show both of our worlds that we can behave like civilized men. You have wounded; I have disabled. We can help each other, and in the process perhaps defuse this whole unfortunate situation.”
“I already told you how to defuse it,” Pappy reminded him. “United Earth is the aggressor here. We’re just defending our territory.”
“Your territory?” Chakarvarti retorted, his calm demeanor cracking a bit. “As I read the numbers, you’re still nearly eighty percent subsidized by United Earth. If we withdrew our support, you’d starve inside of six months.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Pappy said. “I’m an accountant, remember? I know how Geneva is cooking those numbers. Throw in the lopsided tariff and taxation arrangements you’ve saddled us with, and those numbers shift dramatically.”
“But not enough,” Chakarvarti said. “Interesting, though, that you should bring up money. In particular, the shot heard ’round the world analogy is especially relevant when you consider the history of the phrase. It was, after all, the rich American landowners who sent the poor colonists out to fight and die. Very much like the situation here.”
“We don’t really have landowners here,” Pappy said. “Not much on the land worth having.”
“Not at all,” Chakarvarti said. “There are all the metals and other resources. But I was thinking more about how Luna’s rich and powerful are the ones holding the Mimic. I doubt they’re sharing its largesse with the rest of you.”
Pappy felt his ears prick up. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Really?” Chakarvarti made a tsking sound. “Then you make my point for me. Your masters haven’t even told you what they’ve sent you out here to die for?”
“Not a clue,” Pappy said. If Morgan couldn’t — or wouldn’t — let them in on the big secret, maybe Colonel Chakarvarti would be more obliging. “Why don’t you explain it to me?”
“Pappy — no!” Morgan breathed. “You’re not supposed to –“
“Because I’m betting you don’t really know anything,” Pappy continued. At the very least, this might be their chance to find out exactly how much the Ueys knew.
“You’re either remarkably ignorant or you’re stalling,” Chakarvarti said. “No matter. Either way, I’m happy to play along.”
Pappy smiled humorlessly to himself. Especially since Chakarvarti himself was playing the exact same stalling game while he freed the Dunsland from Pappy’s rockslide.
His smile faded. Which meant he and Morgan had that same rapidly closing window to figure out how to immobilize the vehicle permanently.